Today’s post is my entry in the TBEX 2010 Community Keynote. It’s a short essay on my most memorable flight delay as a solo-traveling parent.
We found our departure gate and spread ourselves out comfortably: Cillian on the floor with toys, me with one eye on my book and one eye on my child. I was looking forward to going home. I’d spent the latter part of our three weeks in Peru as a solo parent and I was ready to let my husband take over for a while. My baby fell asleep in my arms and looked like an angel in repose. I stroked his curls and lamented the curse of all solo-traveling parents: how to go to the bathroom after your child has fallen asleep on your lap.
Then the announcements started. There was obviously a problem with our flight but “Donde esta los banos?” and “Una mas cerveza?” – the only Spanish phrases I knew – were of no use in helping me understand what was going on. Initially I ignored the announcements. I didn’t understand what was being said and lugging the dead weight of a sleeping toddler and my carry-on bag around the terminal to find someone who could translate for me seemed futile – especially since all the other passengers were sitting waiting patiently too, a minor delay seemed most likely.
I distracted myself by thinking about the fun we’d had in Peru. From exploring the markets in Huaraz to chasing pigeons in Plaza de Armas, Cusco, it had been a great trip. Unfortunately, because of some excessive diaper-filling activity, we hadn’t made it to Machu Picchu but that had been just a minor inconvenience compared to the effort of finding healthy, vegan, toddler-friendly food in Peru. Suffice it to say we’d eaten a lot of rice and beans and lots and lots of potatoes.
An hour passed, then two hours. Departure time came and went. Still confident that everything would sort itself out, I dozed with my backpack wrapped around my leg and Cillian keeping me warm. And then I started to really fall asleep. I jolted myself awake and realized that anyone could have taken my sleeping child from my arms and I might not have woken up. I tried not to panic. I struggled mightily to keep my eyes open and fought raw terror at the prospect of waking up with empty arms. I laid Cillian on the grubby carpet and paced over him doing my best tiger mama impression.
Over six hours after arriving at the airport, we eventually boarded our flight and slept all eight hours from Lima to Houston. We arrived to a bright morning and another class of problems because two things were certain: we had definitely missed our connecting flight to Seattle and I had no idea when we would get home – and we were hungry. I naively thought: “At least we’re in the U.S.” I didn’t for a moment think that finding something to eat would be a problem.
We munched our way through my few remaining snacks as we breezed through customs and passport control and learned about our options for connecting flights. When I realized that we would have to wait another five hours in Houston and that our new flight would stop in Salt Lake City, further extending our travel time, I was glad that I had Cillian with me. I modeled perfect parent behavior and thanked the Continental staff sweetly when they handed over the new boarding passes – even though inside I was swearing like a sailor.
My little guy was a trouper through all of this but I knew that we needed to find some hot food – and fast. We walked all over the terminal in search of something appetizing for him to eat. Vegans and Texas, I realized, were not words that were typically used in the same sentence. My baby was vegan because my husband was, at the time, also vegan but he wasn’t around and I had a tired toddler on the verge of a Texas-sized meltdown. I made an executive decision and sat us down at a KFC. “I know these nuggets don’t taste like the veggie nuggets we have at home, buddy, but that’s just because we’re in Texas.” I lied all the way through our meal. I felt dreadful for betraying a promise I’d made to my husband. Cillian ate heartily – even if he did need regular convincing that the chicken wasn’t chicken.
A day later Cillian and I were crashed out when my husband, just returned from Las Vegas, sat on the bed beside us and gently stroked my shoulder.
“That was a marathon journey” he said.
“I fed Cillian chicken.” I replied. “I’m sorry.”
“I’m glad you’re home.”
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